COLUMBIA, South Carolina — Steve Spurrier is ready to put aside the outside "enemies" and concentrate on South Carolina's opponents on the field.
The Gamecocks 11th-year coach spent time this summer decrying those who believe his team is in decline after several seasons near the top of the Southeastern Conference.
"They're talking negatively about me and South Carolina," the 70-year-old Spurrier said. "And I'm sick of it."
Spurrier knows the most definitive way to answer back is on the football field.
He acknowledged a step back last fall in going 7-6 after three straight 11- win seasons. In his view, though, the slide stops here — no matter what others outside the program believe.
The rebuild starts on defense where Spurrier brought in old buddy Jon Hoke to co-coordinate a group that squandered three double-digit leads in the fourth quarter.
Hoke, Spurrier's defensive coordinator in his last three seasons at Florida, has switched the Gamecocks to a more traditional 4-3 alignment rather than the 4-2-5 schemes they have been running the previous few seasons.
Just as important, the new junior college additions to the front seven like defensive ends Marquavius Lewis and Dante Sawyer and tackle Ulric Jones, who have made an impact the first two weeks of camp.
"All we're going to do is try and go out there and build a championship defense," Hoke said. "It's a day-by-day process."
One that's apparently working: In a weekend scrimmage, South Carolina quarterbacks were continually chased down by linemen and the secondary — also led by Hoke, a NFL defensive backs coach with Houston and Chicago the previous 13 years — had three interceptions.
"We should be more improved," Spurrier said.
Some things to watch with South Carolina in 2015:
WHO'S THE QB? The Gamecocks have not had too many quarterback issues in recent seasons — at least from picking a starter. From Stephen Garcia to Connor Shaw to Dylan Thompson, coach Steve Spurrier has had a mostly, clear choice since 2009 in determining a starter. Not so this season with four, untested passers in Connor Mitch, Perry Orth, Michael Scarnecchia and Lorenzo Nunez seeking the starting job. Mitch is a third-year sophomore who has a slight edge. Nunez is a true freshman who can run like Shaw did in leading South Carolina to three straight 11-win seasons.
MORE SKAI: Linebacker Skai Moore has been the most consistent player his first two seasons, leading the Gamecocks in tackles both years. The 6-foot-2 junior from Cooper City, Florida, is ready to take a bigger step this season. Linebacker coach Kirk Botkin said Moore has practiced at a higher level as he looks to make a mark on the SEC.
RUNNING GAME: South Carolina enters the season without its leading rusher the past two seasons in Mike Davis, who gave up college for the NFL after his junior year. Expect the Gamecocks to spread things around this fall with seniors Brandon Wilds and Shon Carson, and sophomore David Williams. The three combined for 1,003 yards and eight TDs last fall.
"COOOP": Pharoh Cooper is South Carolina's top receiver, punt returner, kickoff returner and possibly quarterback in the wildcat formation. Count on the Gamecocks making sure Cooper touches the ball as often as possible this fall. Cooper, overshadowed in the SEC by that other receiver with the same last name at Alabama, Pharoh was second in the league only to Amari in receiving yards per game in 2014. Pharoh Cooper caught 69 passes for 1,136 yards and nine touchdowns a year ago.
TOO OLD? Expect to see all the, visor-tossing, headset throwing Spurrier antics on the sidelines this fall — and possibly for several years to come. The coach vows he's got the health and mental faculties of a "55-year-old," and that he will lead the Gamecock for the next four or five years. If he follows through, Spurrier would be at South Carolina for longer than his 12-season run at his alma mater of Florida. Stay tuned.